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By Valerie Jarrett, Neil Bush, and Michelle Nunn  

The first immigrants to America came seeking freedom, but they survived -- and, in time, came to thrive -- because of their determination and because of each other. They valued self-reliance, but in times of strife they also knew could rely on neighbors, friends, sometimes even strangers to offer a helping hand.

That neighbor-helping-neighbor spirit is woven into the DNA of the American spirit. It defines in a very real sense who we are as a people.

It also unites us.

 

That unity was on vivid display this Monday when President Obama welcomed the man who launched the modern service movement, President George H. W. Bush, back to the White House to honor the recipients of the 5,000th Daily Point of Light award. Together, they lauded Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hammer of Union, Iowa, for stepping up to fight hunger and improve the lives of children worldwide.

Nearly 10 years ago, Hamilton and Hammer participated in a volunteer mission to Tanzania to help renovate an HIV/AIDS hospital there. Startled by the starvation they saw, the couple started Outreach, Inc., which has engaged thousands of volunteers in packaging and distributing 230 million free meals to children in more than 15 countries, including the United States.

Their story is a simple one: Two people decided that they simply had to do something. Telling that story, day in and day out, is what the Daily Point of Light Award is all about.

President Bush was the first president in U.S. history to institute a daily presidential recognition program from the White House, conferring 1,020 Daily Point of Light Awards between 1990 and 1993. And President Bush helped launch a nonprofit – Points of Light – that has become the largest organization in the world dedicated to volunteer service.

While he didn't originate the notion of helping our fellow man, he reasserted it as a national priority and insisted that "there can be no definition of a successful life that does not include service to others."

President Obama built on this commitment to service when he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009, which will increase the size of AmeriCorps from 75,000 volunteers to 250,000 by 2017. In 2012, the President created the FEMA Corps program, which established a FEMA-dedicated unit of AmeriCorps members to work solely on disaster preparedness, response and recovery efforts -- and he launched the Serve.gov platform to make it easier for Americans to find and post local volunteer opportunities. 

On Monday, the White House also announced plans to establish an interagency task force led by the Corporation for National and Community Service to develop strategies to expand national service to meet national needs through collaboration with other Federal agencies.

This historic event, then, brought together two Presidents and families united in their commitment to expand volunteerism and service – an issue with a long history of strong bipartisan support. While other critical issues can be attended by sharper debate, that bipartisan support for service is durable and enduring.

Today, America faces both challenges and opportunities in forming "a more perfect Union," but that same spirit of selflessness which has sustained us from our earliest days is as strong as ever.

As Kathy Hamilton and Floyd Hammer show in such a wonderful and compassionate way, you don't have to be a President to be a leader -- and you don't have to be a First Lady to make a difference in the life of your fellowman. All you have to do is open your heart to the need around you, and then do something about it.

Get started by:

  • Tweeting about a point of light in your life, using the hashtag #mypointoflight.
  • Finding an opportunity to volunteer in your community at www.serve.gov.
  • Nominating someone you know for a Daily Point of Light Award at www.pointsoflight.org/dailypointoflight

This post originally appeared on the White House Blog. Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. Neil Bush is the Chairman of Points of Light. Michelle Nunn is the CEO of Points of Light.

 

Keywords: FEMACorps, George H.W. Bush, Points of Light, Serve America Act, United We Serve, volunteering, White House
Eighteen volunteers put in 4,320 hours a year and serve approximately 25,200 meals at St. John’s Samaritans Table in Stark County, Ohio. The volunteers manage all aspects of the weekly program and make sure that no one leaves the table hungry.
The Mid-South Lions Club donates a life changing surgery to a little girl who was attacked by a pit bull.
If you are reading these words with your eyes scanning across the screen, you might forget that there are many for whom that is not possible. Nancy wants to make sure all people, whether blind or sighted, have a chance at a great education.
Approximately 1,500 global Cisco employees and contingent workers volunteer their time to train and respond to a variety of emergency situations through Cisco's Emergency Response Team (ERT).
As part of their Leadership Morgan Hill class project, the Class of 2009 is organizing a community Volunteer Fair in September that will connect organizations with community members looking for opportunities to volunteer. Their goal is to make their new organization, Volunteer Morgan Hill, and the Volunteer Faire a permanent part of the community.
I am a summer intern in the Office of the Mayor of New York City, and I am a proud member of the brand new NYC Service team. NYC Service is a new municipal initiative by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to answer President Obama’s national call to service, and its primary goal is to increase volunteerism and civic engagement in the city
I know that volunteering makes our community a better place to live and extends a helping hand to those in need.
Veterans First Executive Director, Deanne Tate, was moved to tears thanking volunteers for volunteering and spending the day helping veterans in need. It was an honor to participate on this rebuild project and help honor the service men and women who have given so much to our country.
Right To Play sponsored an exchange program between athletes in Jordan and the United States. The program recognizes the universal appeal of sport as an ideal vehicle to inform, educate and empower entire communities.
Kids and teens with behavior problems often fall far behind in their academic development. Mary knew this because of her own son. She decided to get involved with a local literacy program to help youth involved in the juvenile justice system get a solid education.
Mary was weary of responding to the President's call to service, but during an afternoon working with special needs children at a local pool, she quickly discovered that volunteering offered much more.
Among the many difficulties facing the Appalachian communities of Southwest Virginia is the quality of education. With limited funding, many primary and high schools struggle to meet the Standards of Learning (SOL), set forth by the state of Virginia in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act. In recent years, the rural elementary schools of Russell County have sought to incorporate an environmental education aspect in their curriculum. They’ve experienced difficulty in implementing the project due to lack of resources and few qualified instructors.
Linda Loi has been volunteering in the Golden Gate National Park for the last five years. First in the Urban Trail Blazers Program and most recently with the program Inspiring Young Emerging Leaders, Loi has dedicated hours of her time each week to giving back, not just environmentally but also as a youth leader and role model to others in her programs.
Health Corps strives to help stem the crisis of child obesity through school-based health education and mentoring, as well as community events and outreach to underserved populations.
The local Czechoslovak Society of America group in North Riverside, IL, volunteered over 300 hours at the town library to complete a special project.
This community event provides our entire community with heightened crime and drug prevention awareness; generates support for and participation in local anticrime programs; strengthens neighborhood spirit and police-community partnerships; and sends a message to criminals letting them know that neighborhoods are organized and fighting back.
On August 6th, nearly 40 volunteers - some as young as 7, donned gloves, grabbed shovels and rakes, and hauled trash to help beautify and revitalize Milwaukee's 30th Street Industrial Corridor. Many of the community's industrial sites are underutilized and volunteers hope that clean-up projects like this one will help attract new business and revitalize the community.
For her July birthday party, Cara M. told friends and family to forget the usual gifts and leis. Instead, she asked guests to bring cans of food for her church's food pantry, reminding them that even in idyllic Honolulu neighbors were struggling with hunger and homelessness.
What started with a single vegetable garden on the grounds of USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C. has grown into global movement. In their offices across the country and all over the world, USDA employees are volunteering their time to create community gardens, demonstrate sustainable agricultural techniques that everyday people can incorporate into their homes and lives, and showcase the importance of preserving the environment and conserving energy.
These citizens will be especially active during National Health Center Week, August 9th - 16th, 2009. Visit NACHC’s site www.healthcenterweek.com to find out about Health Center Week events near you.
Summer Advantage USA, a national non-profit that provides summer learning opportunities for youth in grades K - 8, led its young scholars through a process of identifying community challenges and implementing service projects. Here, these young people reflect on their work.
Keeping the veterans community active is the best way to honor those who have served.
Busy working mom Kenya was driving home from her children's little league game when she wondered, "why don't we have this for service?" To teach her children and others in the community the importance of service and time with family, Kenya came up with the Family Service Team Program.
We found a solution to help military girls fight low self-esteem, grow in leadership, and unite with those who understand their struggles. The Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs will bring together 500 military girls from across California for the first ever weekend conference for military girls to empower one another in sisterly support.
The YMCA Earth Service Corps joined forces with the Washington Trails Association to get dirty at Mount Saint Helens for a week of environmental restoration.
A Community Health Corps member shares their story of service.
This young man learns that putting his still-struggling second-language skills to work in his community parent education role is a win-win.
United We Serve to Save Energy & the Earth!! I organized a home energy efficiency event in Battle Creek, Michigan. The overarching goal was to reach out to the Battle Creek community to help lower their energy costs and decrease carbon pollution emissions.
160 Odyssey House staff, clients and community volunteers tackle record breaking rainfall to build a new playground at the Family Re-Entry supportive housing facility in the South Bronx.
One volunteer shares the story of how she benefitted personally through service to her community.

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